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An Inside Look at Joints

Arthritis is the most common cause of lameness in the horse. In fact, it’s believed to be responsible for up to 60% of all lameness! What is it? And how do you know if your horse is at risk?

What is arthritis?

Osteoarthritis (usually referred to as “arthritis”) is progressive, permanent degeneration of articular cartilage. It’s also known as degenerative joint disease, or DJD.

How does it work?

Arthritis is a cascading cycle of inflammation that results in changes within the joint. Over time, joint structures develop scarring, synovial fluid (the “lubricant”) dries out, the articular cartilage is worn down, and finally, the bones themselves become thick and scarred.

Who is at risk?

A 1999 study in the Equine Veterinary Journal identified arthritic changes in a herd of wild mustangs. The researchers concluded that the osteoarthritic process was naturally present in horses, and they further suggested that the stresses associated with training may accelerate that process. That means if your horse is in regular work, his joints are more at risk for early arthritic changes that could affect his comfort, soundness and future performance.

  • Hock – Arthritis in the hock is also known as “bone spavin.” Just about every type of heavy work puts a significant amount of stress on the hock. In fact, as many as half the jumpers and grand prix dressage horses studied have shown arthritic changes in the hock joints.
  • Fetlock – Research has shown that, much like the pastern joint, even horses in lower levels of jumping and dressage work show arthritic changes within the fetlock joint.
  • Pastern – When the pastern bone undergoes arthritic changes, it’s often referred to as “ringbone.” Research has shown that even lower level dressage and jumping puts additional stress on the pastern joints. Pastern joint stress has also been noted in studies on western pleasure and roping horses.
  • Knee – Arthritis of the knee is somewhat less common, though it has been found in studies on upper level dressage horses and horses used for rodeo work.
  • Navicular – Navicular syndrome is a general term that can be used to describe any sort of chronic pain in the heel. One of the potential causes of chronic heel pain, however, is arthritis of the navicular bone, which has been found in horses used for dressage, jumping, reining, rodeo and roping.
  • Coffin – Arthritic changes in the coffin joint have been found in studies on western pleasure and rodeo horses.

Healthy joints start here

Give your horse a leg up

Arthritis is a progressive, degenerative condition, which means that once it starts, it will continue getting worse. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do for your horse. By providing the building blocks of healthy joint structures, you can help ensure your horse has everything he needs to keep his joints in good shape.

Mother Nature’s big three

Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and hyaluronic acid are three molecules that are already produced by your horse’s body. By providing them in a supplement, you can help ensure your horse always has adequate amounts available to help his body recover from the daily wear and tear that come with training and competing.

Selecting a supplement

The harder your horse is working, the more support you’ll want to provide. But how do you know which of the many, many available options out there is the right one for your horse? You can read on
to get suggestions for horses in various levels of work, as defined by the National Research Council. Not a big reader? Head to, where a custom recommendation is just a click away!

Young horse or any horse in light work

Your Goal: Maintain healthy joint tissue, avoid future joint problems

What “light work” looks like

Amount of Exercise

  • 1-3 hours per week
  • 40% walk, 50% trot, 10% canter

Types of Events

  • Recreational, pleasure or short trail riding
  • Beginning of training programs
  • Occasional showing

Top picks for horses in light work

SmartFlex® I Maintenance Pellets Original

As Low As: $24.95
(259 reviews)
Grand Flex

As Low As: $35.55
(27 reviews)


Horse in moderate work

Your Goal: Support joints that are under day-to-day stress

What “moderate work” looks like

Amount of Exercise

  • 3-5 hours per week
  • 30% walk, 55% trot, 10% canter, 5% low jumping, cutting, other skill work

Types of Events

  • Regular work in a school/lesson program
  • Recreational, pleasure or long trail riding
  • Beginning of training/breaking
  • Low level hunters and jumpers
  • Basic dressage work
  • Frequent showing

Top picks for horses in moderate work

SmartFlex® II Support Pellets Original

As Low As: $42.95
(281 reviews)
Cosequin® Equine Powder

As Low As: $38.10
(205 reviews)

Horse in heavy work

Your Goal: Provide comprehensive support for joint, tendon and ligament health, avoid discomfort and stiffness

What “heavy work” looks like

Amount of Exercise

  • 4-5 hours per week
  • 20% walk, 50% trot, 15% canter, 15% galloping, jumping or other skill work

Types of Events

  • Mid-level hunters and jumpers
  • Low-medium level eventing
  • 2nd through 4th Level dressage work
  • Frequent showing in strenuous events
  • Seasoned All Around Western horses
  • Barrel racers

Top picks for horses in heavy work

SmartFlex® III Resilience Pellets Original

As Low As: $61.95
(536 reviews)
Cosequin® ASU

As Low As: $61.15
(273 reviews)

Elite performance horse in intense work

Your Goal: Provide ultimate support for joint, tendon and ligament health, minimize discomfort and stiffness caused by intense training and competition

What “intense work” looks like

Amount of Exercise

  • Varies—ranges from 1 hour per week speed work to 6-12 hours per week
    slow work

Types of Events

  • Upper level jumpers
  • FEI level dressage work
  • Elite 3-day eventing
  • Rigorous competition schedule
  • Futurity Reiners

Top picks for horses in intense work

This ships free!
SmartFlex® IV Ultimate Pellets Original

As Low As: $82.95
(81 reviews)
This ships free!
Cosequin® ASU Plus

As Low As: $79.95
(50 reviews)
Adequan® i.m.
(136 reviews)

Horse in recovery

Your Goal: Help minimize inflammation associated with normal healing
and recovery, alleviate discomfort

What “recovery” means

When your horse is laid up with an injury, he’s obviously not working. But if you have plans to bring him back into work in the future, a joint supplement can be a great addition to the rehabilitation program you put together with your vet. To help your horse come back strong, choose a supplement that’s designed specifically for recovering horses.

Top picks for horses in recovery

SmartFlex® Rehab Pellets Original

As Low As: $61.95
(281 reviews)
This ships free!
Recovery EQ Extra Strength

As Low As: $79.15
(60 reviews)
Surpass® Topical Cream
(16 reviews)

Senior Horse

Your Goal: Ease the stiffness and discomfort associated with aging; support joint health and provide antioxidants

Top picks for senior horses

SmartFlex® Senior Pellets Original

As Low As: $38.95
(1437 reviews)
SmartFlex® Senior Herb-Free Pellets Original

As Low As: $41.95
(331 reviews)

Find the perfect joint supplement for your horse in just a few clicks. Check out the SmartFlex Finder

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2 comments on “An Inside Look at Joints
  1. carol lohman says:

    i have my mare on smartpak ultimate. she is insulin resistent and has metabolic disease. she is in a contant struggle to keep sound from absesses etc. i am wondering what the difference is between your recovery smartpak supplement and the smartpak i have her on. would she be better off on the recovery than the ultimate for this problem. thanks carol

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Carol, thanks for your question! SmartFlex Rehab is intended for recovering horses, to help support normal healing. SmartFlex IV Ultimate, on the other hand, is designed for elite performance horses in heavy work. Based on your description of your horse’s issues, it sounds like neither one of these is quite the right choice for her. We’d love to ask you a few more questions to help you select the perfect supplement for her. At your earliest convenience, please give us a call at 1-888-752-5171 or email us at We look forward to hearing from you! – SmartPaker Kerri

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SmartCombo™ Senior Pellets

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